Episode 129

Melinda’s Journal

Sunday, February 18

At the beginning of third grade, the music teacher taught everyone how to play the recorder. He would come to our classroom once a week and we all thought we were super cool because now we knew how to play an instrument.

Just before our winter break, our teacher told us the lessons were ending, but if we wanted, we could pick instruments and take lessons for the rest of the school year, joining the school band. He gave us an order form to bring home to our parents with a list of allowed instruments and the explanation that we could choose from a larger selection when we got to middle school.

That weekend, my mother and I were Christmas shopping at the mall. In lieu of the regular holiday elevator music being piped through one of the department stores, we saw a man playing a piano near the elevator. Beside him, a woman was accompanying him on one of the most beautiful instruments I had ever heard. It wasn’t just the fact that it was shiny and silver. I loved the beautiful high notes emanating from it.

I could have listened to it for hours, although my mother made me leave after only a minute. As we walked away, I realized I was in love with that instrument. It was so elegant, I just knew that the clarinet was the instrument I wanted to learn to play.

A week later, the school band performed a winter concert for the entire school. Our music teacher had selected one person from each section to perform a solo, so we third graders could see and hear each instrument to assist us in choosing. I found this unnecessary as I had already picked out my instrument, but I didn’t mind the fact that we were missing gym class because of the assembly.

Each soloist played Jingle Bells, including the “Dashing through the snow” prelude. A drummer went first. Then a kid who played a weird tuba called the euphonium. He wasn’t that great. The trombonist and trumpeter were much better. There were two types of saxophones and they both played alright as well.

Then the teacher called for the clarinet to come play her solo. I remember sitting up a little straighter, full of excitement. This was my favorite instrument in the whole band.

Except, it wasn’t. A girl came to the music stand in the center of the room carrying a slender black instrument. She held it in front of her like our recorders, not off her shoulder like the musician I had seen in the store. The black instrument had a much lower tone than the silver instrument I wanted to learn. It was a pleasant sound, but it wasn’t nearly as elegant as my instrument.

When the clarinet player was finally done, the instructor called for the flute to perform. A boy came to the stand holding the long silver instrument I had seen in the department store. He played clean, clear high notes. It was absolutely beautiful. That was the instrument I wanted to play. Only, it was called a flute. To this day, it remains my favorite instrument in the orchestra, although I wouldn’t mind learning the piccolo someday.

Melinda’s Story

Sunday morning, I couldn’t help noticing that Walter seemed a little down during breakfast. I waited until we were walking to church alone before trying to figure out what was wrong.

“Everything okay?”

Walter shrugged. “I like Erica.”


“But I feel like she’s picking fights with me for no good reason.”

I sent him a sympathetic look. “Is this about what I said during NeoGenesis last night?”

“Sort of. I mean, she spent half the walk back to her dorm ranting about how crazy you were. I think she got upset that I wasn’t on her side. But it’s not just that. I mean, the night before, we had an argument over a basketball game. Thursday night, we had an argument over dinner.”

“I don’t remember you fighting at dinner.”

Walter shook his head. “No. Not at dinner. About dinner. We were literally fighting about the word dinner.”

I couldn’t hold back my giggle. “Only you. How on earth do you argue about a word?”

Walter sighed. “She got upset that I use the word supper to mean the last meal of the day. It’s the way I was raised. She insisted it was supposed to be dinner. So then, I told her about the difference between the two words. And she told me I was wrong.”

“Were you?”

Walter shook his head. “It was an episode of C. I. Amy. Amy was attending a state dinner and Sammy goes on this tangent about the difference between the two words. Of course I remembered it. I may have even slipped into my Sammy voice while I was telling her.”

I tried to keep my tone gentle. “Did it occur to you that maybe the fact checkers were wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Actually, it did. So I pulled out my phone to check. I was right.”

I winced. “You didn’t say I told you so, did you?”

“Not in so many words.”

I sighed. “Walter, you are one of the smartest people I know, but you can be really clueless sometimes. You know that, right?”

Walter looked confused. “But she was wrong.”

“You’re going to need to ask yourself what is more important. Having a healthy relationship means not always having to be right all the time.”

He sent me an incredulous look. “But she was wrong.”

“Yes. But do you think you should choose the middle of a fight to tell her that? Don’t you think she would have gone back to her room and looked it up on her own?”

“But what if she didn’t?”

I rolled my eyes. “Are you going to make me start saying supper?”

“That depends. Do you usually eat more at noon or in the evening? Because the bigger meal is dinner. Then if—”

I sighed, holding up a hand to stop his rant. “Walter. You are completely missing the point. Being in a relationship is about making compromises. If you insist on being right all the time, she’s not going to stick around.”

Walter frowned. “I hate when you’re right, you know.”

“So, I’m assuming you apologized since you guys are still talking to one another?”

“Oh yeah. After about half an hour of giving each other the silent treatment, she apologized.”

“You could have apologized first.”

“I know. I was about to. She beat me too it.”

I shook my head. “Walter, sometimes I just don’t know what to do with you.”

Because of a combination of many factors, I didn’t need to meet with Deacon John after Mass. I used the extra time to begin preparing for finals. Since Sarah was still watching cartoons at the MAC with Larry, I didn’t see the need to lug my things to the library. Settling at my desk, I reviewed all my math assignments for the semester, making note of questions that had caused me difficulties the first time around.

I was just thinking about taking a lunch break when my phone rang. Glancing at the readout, I answered with a smile. “Hi, Mom. What’s up?”

“Well, for once, we seemed to have arrived on campus early and were wondering if we could take you out for lunch.”

I glanced at the clock. “I have to be at the VAPAC in a couple of hours.”

“How does Barney’s sound?”

Like my favorite sub shop. “That sounds fantastic.”

“We’re at the Arts Center. We’ll swing by your dorm to pick you up.”

“Okay. I’ll meet you outside.”

I packed my purse and headed down the stairs. On the way, I texted my friends that I was having lunch with my parents. As soon as I climbed into the backseat of my father’s sedan, I realized how glad I was to see my family. I hadn’t spent much time with them the last time I was home and so much had happened since then. I was happy to spend this little time, just the four of us.

As my father pulled back onto the main road, my mother turned around to smile at me. “Hi, Baby Girl. How are you feeling?”

“Much better. I’m off the antibiotics. It’s like I was never sick.”

“Did you fall behind in your studies?”

I shook my head. “No. I was already ahead, so it wasn’t too hard to catch up.”

“That’s good.”

My brother looked up from his phone. “So, did Pat like his birthday present?”

“He loved it. I told him you helped me pick it out.”

My mother raised her eyebrows. “What did you get him?”

“It’s a model like Joey does. But it’s the same plane as his dad’s. And I didn’t realize it, but he’s getting his license in a couple of weeks, so it made the plane even more appropriate.”

My mother smiled. “That sounds like the perfect present. I didn’t think to say it, but your friends were welcome to join us for lunch.”

I shrugged. “They couldn’t.”

“Is everything okay with you and Patrick?”

I tried to keep the whine out of my voice. “Yeah. Everything’s fine.”

“He wasn’t in your dorm with you, was he?”

“No, Mom. He tries not to come inside my dorm. He’s scared of third form girls.”

“So, how long is this concert going to be?” Joey asked. “Mom said I’m not allowed to use my phone while you guys are playing.”

I was relieved for the change of subject and made a mental note to thank my brother later. “Well, it’s all the music ensembles. Wind orchestra is last.”

He narrowed his eyes. “When you say all, how many are we talking?”

I shrugged. “Well, there’s the wind ensemble and string ensemble. Then there’s the jazz ensemble. Then there are the choral groups. I think it’s just the choir and chamber choir, though. Not all the club groups.”

Joey groaned and turned back to his phone.

When we got to Barney’s, my family and I waited in line by the counter, staring at the menu while deciding what to eat. I was debating between a chicken parmesan and a steak sandwich when someone grabbed me from behind. I shrieked in surprise, but my mother started screaming, even as the arms released me.

“Get away from my daughter! HELP! Someone!”

“Mom! Mom! Calm down!” I waved my hands in front of my mother. “I’m fine. This is a friend of mine.”

I could understand why my mother had been scared. Half of Brody’s face was still the sickly yellow of a healing bruise.

I pointed to him as I turned back to my parents. “Mom, Dad. This is my friend Brody. We dance together. Brody, these are my parents and my brother.”

Brody sent them an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

My mother pursed her lips. “It’s okay.”

I had a feeling it wasn’t, but I turned back to my friend. “How are you doing? Pat told me what happened.”

Brody shrugged. “Better. Everyone in school was on my side when they found out what happened. How about you? I heard you were sick.”

I stuck out my tongue. “Yeah. I had strep, but I’m mostly better now.” I pointed to the counter. “You coming or going?”

“Going. I’m on my own today and really didn’t want to cook. Almost burned down the house last time. Figured it was safer to grab a sub for lunch. I’m meeting up with someone in a little while. I’ll tell you about it later.” Brody started walking backwards, taking a sip of the soda in his hand. “Hey. We on for next week?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Sounds good.” He raised his soda toward my parents. “Nice meeting you. Sorry for the scare.”

Brody walked backwards out of the restaurant. Through the glass windows, I could see him practically skipping toward his car. I just shook my head as I turned back to my parents.

“Who was that?” my mother asked.

I smiled. “Remember I was a gingerbread cookie? He was my partner.”

The look on my mother’s face told me she still had many questions. But we had reached the register. I quickly ordered my steak sandwich and soda, pleased to see my mother had forgotten about Brody by the time we sat down with our subs.

Later that afternoon, I sat in the greenroom with my friends, playing scales over and over to warm up my flute. On her clarinet beside me, Sarah was playing a difficult section from one of the marches we were about to perform. All around the room, the members of the wind orchestra were playing to keep their instruments warm. I found the discordant sound comforting.

As soon as Mr. Williams walked into the room, however, the room went silent. His booming voice resounded in the small space. “The jazz ensemble is nearly finished. Is everyone warmed up? Let’s tune quickly. Concert B-flat.”

Taking a deep breath, I played the note long and clear. Someone in the brass section was off, although I couldn’t tell if the instrument was too high or too low. I just knew it sounded wrong.

Mr. Williams obviously heard the discordant tone as well, because he held up his tuner and had the entire brass section play. He then called for just the trumpets, and finally each trumpeter individually until he found the culprit. A few other sections needed some refinement as well before we were ready to line up in the wings.

I watched as the jazz ensemble stood and exited the opposite end of the stage, although a few members remained, moving into different seats as the rest of us wordlessly found our places. When everyone was settled, Mr. Williams entered the stage and stood at his podium, facing the audience.

“Hello again. Our wind ensemble will close our program this afternoon.”

As Mr. Williams discussed the music we were about to play, I could hear Kelsey muttering beside me. “I will NOT drop my flute. I will not drop my flute.”

Smiling to myself, I surveyed the theater. My parents were sitting near the back row of the mezzanine level. My brother looked bored out of his mind, but I nodded at my mother’s wave before continuing my scan. Sarah’s family was on the opposite side of the theater. Sarah’s mother was interpreting Mr. Williams’s words for Sarah’s sister.

Sarah wasn’t looking at them, though. She was smiling at the balcony. I followed her gaze. Larry was sitting in the front row between Pat and Walter.

Mr. Williams stopped talking and turned to face us. He surveyed us quickly before raising his arms. I brought my flute to my lips. When he raised his baton, I took a deep breath. As he lowered it for the first beat, the stage exploded in sound.

I played every note perfectly. I remained on the correct beat through every song. The rest of the orchestra did a fantastic job as well. Kelsey never dropped her flute. Addy remembered to change octaves. Will never missed a cue.

The performance felt as if it lasted for hours and was over too quickly. Soon, the wind orchestra was playing the final note. Unlike nearly every rehearsal, I was pretty confident the orchestra had finally managed to play flawlessly. The audience must have thought so as well, since they rewarded us with a standing ovation.

Mr. Williams took a bow and gestured toward the orchestra. As the audience stopped clapping and people began to put on their coats, Mr. Williams dismissed us. I hurried off the stage with my classmates.

“Thank God that’s over!” Kelsey exclaimed in the wings. “I was so nervous.”

I smiled at her as we made our way to the greenroom. “But you didn’t drop your flute.”

“True. So, do we have practice tomorrow night? Get started on the spring musical?”

Sixth-former Dante answered from behind us. “No. We get the rest of the term off.”

Kelsey gave an enormous sigh of relief. “I am so glad to hear that. I haven’t done any homework the past two weeks. I am so far behind.”

“I know, right?”

Kelsey nodded toward me. “What about you? Weren’t you in the infirmary? You must have a lot of work to make up.”

I shrugged. “I was, and I did, but once I started feeling better, I started doing some work. I think I’m pretty much all caught up.”

In the greenroom, I quickly cleaned my flute with my magic cleaning wand, sticking it in the body before returning the pieces to their case.

I turned to my roommate. “Ready to go?”

Sarah locked the latches on her clarinet case and stood. “All set.”

Together, we made our way through the hallway and into the black box theater, which we crossed to reach the opposite wing of the VAPAC.

“So, are you going out with your family for dinner?” I asked as we made our way up three flights of stairs.

Sarah shrugged. “I think that was the plan.”

“Are you allowed to?”

“I asked Sally. She said I can go out with my parents, but I have to tell her when I get back on campus. And that she was going to check in with my parents later to make sure I was with them the entire time. Like I would lie about it.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “What about you? You going out with your family?”

“Yeah. We grabbed sandwiches for lunch, but we’re probably going someplace not fast food for dinner. I invited Pat, but he didn’t want to join us.” I shrugged as I unlocked my music locker. “Hey, you want to store your clarinet here? You won’t need it for a couple of weeks.”

“Will it fit?” Sarah rolled her eyes. “Stupid question. Of course it will. It used to hold that huge portfolio thingy you had. Thanks.”

I closed the locker. “So, are you going to invite Larry to join you for dinner?”

“Ha ha,” Sarah replied in a sardonic tone. “My parents would kill him. I’m pretty sure most of dinner is going to be them telling me that I’m not allowed to see him anymore.”

“Yeah, like that would work.”

“I know, right?”

When we reached the lobby, we found our parents standing in a small huddle near the security desk. A little ways away, Pat was having an animated discussion with Sarah’s sister, though he seemed to be including my brother in the conversation. I decided against mentioning that Larry was nowhere to be seen. I sent a quick smile to Pat before joining my parents.

My mother held me tight. “That was an amazing performance. It sounded like a professional orchestra.”

Sarah’s mother nodded as she embraced her own daughter. “I agree.”

I looked at my mother. “So, what about dinner?”

“We were thinking of all going out for pizza. The Trans are going to join us. Is that okay with you girls?”

Sarah and I nodded. My mother looked over her shoulder. “Patrick? Would you like to join us?”

Pat signed something to Crystal, and they all came to join us. He flashed his famous smile at my mother. “Thank you for the offer, but I need to pass. I have to meet with my lab partner about the lab I missed on Friday.”

I pointed through the glass windows to the courtyard, where I could see Bethany and Will speaking to some adults. “I think your lab partner might be busy.”

Pat shook his head, his tone turning slightly mournful. “Bethany takes such impeccable notes. I already did my physics lab report. Now, I have to meet with Kris for my biology lab. Let’s just say his notes are not Bethany’s. I’ll probably miss study hours.”

I nodded. “Okay. I’ll text you later. Good luck.”

Pat waved to everyone before heading toward the courtyard. I saw him bump fists with a few of his classmates as he headed toward the dormitory.

My mother’s voice brought my attention back to the conversation around me. “So, girls, where should we go for pizza?”

Sarah shrugged. “There’s a restaurant that has a party room we could reserve.”

Her father nodded. “I like that idea.”

Sarah and I needed to be back on campus by study hours, so dinner was not a very long affair. After our parents spent some time praising our performance, they began talking among themselves. I was worried they were talking about me. That paranoia grew even stronger when I heard Sarah’s parents mention restriction.

As soon as it was clear the parents were no longer paying her any attention, Crystal began asking questions about the incident in the library. When Sarah wouldn’t answer her, Crystal began texting me. I refused to text back. Although I only knew a handful of signs, one of them was No, which I continually repeated each time my phone buzzed.

Eventually, Crystal got the hint and started telling us about the boy she liked at school. Joey, who was the same age as Crystal, told us about his girlfriend.

I was a little surprised to hear my little brother had a girlfriend. In my mind, he was still an annoying little creature covered in mud. I had to remind myself more than once during the conversation that he was eleven now. As I listened to his little middle school romance, it occurred to me that he was growing up.

“So, what do you do together?” Crystal asked Joey.

After Sarah interpreted, Joey shrugged. “She’s in the chess club with me, so after school we take the bus to the library and go play a game of chess. Then, we do our homework together until our parents come get us.”

I scrunched my face. “That sounds really nerdy.”

Sarah raised her eyebrows at me. “Says the girl whose first date with the hottest movie star ever was doing homework in the library.”

“We were studying for finals.”


Dinner didn’t last very long. We needed to return to school in time for study hours. My parents volunteered to bring Sarah back to campus so her parents could get Crystal back to her school before it got too late. By the time I reached my room, I had just enough time to pack my bag and get to the library. I was surprised to find Walter studying alone.

I placed my bag on the table, looking around. “Where’s Erica?”

“We broke up.”

I sat with a frown. “Oh now. What happened?”

Walter shrugged.

After lunch, Walter and Erica went to the MAC to watch basketball before it was time to go to the VAPAC. Erica found a women’s game and Walter tried not to say anything. When they had watched on Friday, Erica accused him of making a sexist comment because she misunderstood what he was trying to say. He didn’t want to get into another argument.

Unfortunately, it seemed fighting with Erica was inevitable. One of the players attempted a three-point shot, even though two women from the opposite team were trying to block her. When the ball went in, Walter exclaimed, “Nice.”

Erica turned on him. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Walter raised his eyebrows. “It was a nice shot. I didn’t think she’d make it.”

Erica narrowed her eyes. “Because she’s a woman?”

“No, because she had two players trying to block her.”

“You wouldn’t have been so shocked if a guy made that shot.”

“Yeah, I would have. It was a tough shot.” Walter couldn’t understand what he had done to make Erica so angry. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the game. Walter removed the arm he had draped on the couch behind her.

By the time Larry joined them a short time later, Erica had cooled off slightly. As they walked to the VAPAC, she squeezed Walter’s hand. “I’m sorry. I get a little worked up when I watch sports.”

Walter smiled. “I’ve noticed.”

Erica frowned, but she didn’t seem offended.

After Pat joined their little party, they all decided to watch the performance from the balcony, since they could never sit up there for school meetings. Although there were many people watching the show, the balcony was fairly empty. Walter sat between Larry and his girlfriend, resting his ankle on one leg and throwing an arm on the back of Erica’s chair.

The show took a long time. The choir was only halfway through their repertoire when Erica groaned.

Walter turned to her. “You okay?”

She shrugged. “Yeah. It’s just, this is really boring. I’d much rather be watching the game.”

Walter squeezed her shoulder. “I know. Me, too. But my friends are down there. I want to be there for them. Just like I want them to come watch my games.”

“I guess.”

Walter turned his attention back to the stage. When the chorus finished, he noticed Erica was not clapping. He glanced at her. She was staring intensely at her phone. Glancing over her shoulder, he saw she was watching another basketball game.

He whispered in her ear. “Do you think you can put that away for like one hour?”

Erica rolled her eyes. “Fine.”

Erica tucked the phone out of sight. But ten minutes later, Walter again found her watching a game.

“You have a problem. You know that, right?” Walter couldn’t quite hide his annoyance.

“I’m bored.”

“Then leave. No one said you had to be here.”

“Fine. I will.”

They were sitting in the front row, but there was no one else around them. Erica was able to leave without having to climb over anyone. Walter was irritated that Erica had left, but he was glad to watch the rest of the performance with no more interruptions.

When the show ended, Walter went to the upper campus dorms. He knocked on Erica’s door and she opened it a moment later.

“Oh. Hey. Come on in.”

“I don’t have co-ed.”

“Oh. Um, okay. You come wait here. I’ll go talk to my advisor.”

Walter sat on the bed while Erica disappeared. Her laptop was still playing a basketball game on her desk. Walter just shook his head as he waited for her to return. When she did, she closed the door behind her.

He pointed to it. “You’re not allowed to close that.”

“Oh. It doesn’t stay open.”

“Well, I can’t be in here if the door is shut.”

Erica rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She grabbed a shoe and used it to prop the door open. “Better?”

Walter shrugged. “I guess.”

“I’m sorry about the music thing. I guess I just wasn’t interested.”

Walter waved a dismissive hand. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“So, you want to watch the game with me?”

“Maybe we could watch a movie instead?”

Erica shrugged. “Sure. What sounds good?” She brought the computer to the bed, where they browsed through some online streaming services until they found something they could both agree to watch.

About halfway through the movie, Erica’s hand started tracing circles along Walter’s chest. Soon, they were no longer paying attention to the movie.

Eventually, Walter’s growling stomach broke the mood, so he suggested they head over to the dining hall.

As they were walking past the language building, Erica waved to her advisor. “Hey, Frau Koch.”

The advisor nodded and continued toward the dorm.

Walter raised his eyebrows. “If she’s just coming back, who gave you coed permission?”

Erica started giggling. “No one.”

“So, I wasn’t supposed to be there.”

“Technically, no.”

Walter detoured through the science center. “You lied to me.”

“Only a little.”

“It was a big lie, Erica. I could have gotten into a lot of trouble.” Walter didn’t care for the fact that his voice was echoing in the glass-walled building, so he ducked into the lounge.

Erica huffed in after him. “You didn’t get caught, so what’s the big deal? No harm, no foul.”

“But it doesn’t change the fact you lied to me.”

“Why are you making such a big thing out of this?”

“Because you lied to me!” Walter had not meant to raise his voice, but Erica was missing the point.

“So, it’s okay for you to lie, but not me?”

Walter was flabbergasted. It took a moment before he could speak. “When did I lie to you?”

“Last night. You said you had never seen Mighty Max.”

“I haven’t.”

Erica put her hand on her hip. “Then how did you know so many details when I was telling you about my favorite scene?”

“Because I was on the set when they filmed it!” Walter was becoming increasingly exasperated, but Erica’s tone was bordering on injurious.

“Oh, sure. Rub it in.”

“Rub what in?”

Erica narrowed her eyes at him. “That your parents are all famous and everything.”

“I wasn’t —”

Erica waved a dismissive hand, though her tone was still bitter. “No, it’s fine. Us mere mortals can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in so many movies that you don’t even want to watch them anymore.”

“We just watched a movie!”

“And you’re complaining about it.”

“No, I’m—” Walter shook his head. “You know what? I’m not doing this anymore.” He took a step toward the door.

Erica shouted even louder. “Why are you always walking away?”

He turned back to her. “Erica, I’m done. With the fighting. With everything. We’re done.”

“Fine. Be that way. I’m sick of you always picking fights, anyway.”

Walter ignored her as he headed off to the dining hall alone.

When Walter finished his story, I was speechless. “Wow. I don’t know what to say.”

Walter shrugged. “I’m not really in the mood to analyze it. I wanted to tell you about it, but—”

I nodded. “I get it. Just know I’m here if you want to talk about it. Now, where’s the math book?”

Pat’s Story

First thing Sunday morning, Walter met me at my dorm. “Are you up for a run?”

I was dressed for one. I followed him outside. “So ready. I hate not running. But, I’m still tired. I’m not sure I’ll be able to run the entire time.”

Walter nodded, and I knew he understood. But I got the impression something was bothering him.

I called him out on it. “You okay?”

He shrugged. “I feel like Erica has been picking fights with me. Like, every day.”

“She has?”

Walter nodded. “Last night she was upset that I was siding with Melinda about the show.”

“That’s a stupid thing to get upset about.”

Walter grimaced. “Which I may have mentioned.”

I swore as I opened the door to the TRAC.

Walter nodded. “Friday night, we went to the MAC during the break to watch a basketball game. One of the women’s college teams. They were really good. I mentioned that I was surprised one girl was playing so well. She went off on a rant about how I was being sexist. That women can play just as well as men.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Were you implying otherwise?”

“No. I was surprised she was playing so well because the other team was hounding her. She couldn’t turn around without tripping over one of them.”

As usual, we were the only ones in the gym. We made our way upstairs to the suspended track, going straight into our run. I only made it through about half our regular time before growing tired. When I got to the next landing, I stretched while I waited for Walter to finish.

Eventually, panting, he started stretching beside me. “You okay, man?”

“Still exhausted. Let’s skip the weight room. I want to grab an egg from the dining hall before detention.”

By the end of detention—number five out of nine, not that I was counting or anything—I had caught up on nearly all the work I had missed while I was out sick. I was even ahead in a few classes. As soon as the dean dismissed us, I emailed my biology lab partner to schedule a time for him to explain to me the lab I had missed.

I headed to the dining hall, arriving at our usual table just in time to hear my brother talking with food in his mouth. “So, what time is the thingy today?”

I smacked him as I sat between him and his girlfriend. “That depends. What’s the thingy?”

“You know. The music thing.”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask the musicians? Why are they not here?”

Walter shrugged. “Dunno.”

Knowing my girlfriend, she had probably lost track of time studying. If she didn’t show up in the next few minutes, I would text her.

Erica took the daily schedule from the middle of the table and quickly scanned it. “It’s at two.”

Walter chugged a glass of water before answering. “I’d like to go. Wanna join me?”

Erica shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

I smiled. “I’ll meet you guys down there. I need to bring my books back to my dorm after lunch.”

Erica glanced around as Sarah and Larry put down their trays. “So, what about after? Anyone want to go into town for pizza?”

Sarah shook her head. “I’m still on restriction. I’m not even sure if I can go out to eat with my parents.”

Larry nodded. “Ditto.”

I also shook my head. “I already told Melinda I didn’t want to go into town. I don’t think I should go with you guys.”

Walter smirked. “You just don’t want to have dinner with her parents.”

“I’m still not convinced her mother likes me.”

“She doesn’t.”

I threw a potato puff at my brother.

“Food fight!” Larry was a little loud.

I immediately looked around. Melinda’s advisors were sitting nearby with their children. Clarissa sent me a look of warning while her husband looked slightly more amused. I quickly turned away and glared at Larry.

“I ought to throw one of these at you, but I’m pretty sure Price is watching my every move at the moment.”

Erica shook her head. “You shouldn’t throw good food. It’s such a waste. You need to wait until stuffed shells night. Those are only good for food fights.”

Our laughter echoed across the dining hall.

I was halfway to the VAPAC when I saw Sarah’s family approaching from the parking lot across the street. As soon as her sister saw me, she waved, then started signing faster than lightning.

“Slow down!” I reminded her. “I don’t sign as fast as you.”

Sarah’s parents glanced in my direction, waving and looking nervous as I approached. I had met them briefly about a month ago. Unlike their daughters, they couldn’t separate me from my celebrity persona.

Crystal, however, was her usual exuberant self. “Hi! How are you? Can I sit with you? My parents are making me crazy.”

I shook my head. “I’m fine. But I think you should sit with your parents.” I gestured toward the VAPAC. “Should we go in?”

As soon as Sarah’s parents were looking in the opposite direction, I quickly told Crystal why she couldn’t join me. “Larry’s afraid your parents are mad at him. I don’t think he’d be too happy to see you. That okay?”

Crystal giggled. “He’s right. That’s okay. I like to sit near the front, anyway. I can feel the music better.”

As she followed her family into the theater, I went to the gallery side to wait for my friends. When I saw Melinda’s family enter the theater, I was secretly glad they hadn’t seen me.

Walter and his friends arrived a short time later and we unanimously voted to sit in the balcony. I was surprised by the number of people attending until I looked at the program. There were two choral groups and three instrumental ensembles.

Beside me, Larry groaned. “We’re going to be here forever, aren’t we?”

By the time Melinda stepped onto the stage, it felt like we had been there forever. After the choir performed, the curtain closed, and the chamber choir performed in front of it. When the curtain again opened, the stage had been transformed. Rows of chairs and music stands had replaced the risers.

We still had to wait for the string orchestra and jazz ensemble, but finally, the wind orchestra performed. I smiled when I caught Melinda looking at me, but she only had a moment before it was time to play.

The entire performance took just under two hours. As soon as it was over, I surged to my feet. My legs were cramping. I stretched my arms and turned to my companions. Larry looked half-asleep. Walter had lost his girlfriend.

I raised my eyebrows at him. “Missing someone?”

He gave me a rude hand gesture. “She had to leave.”

“Whatever. I’m going to the gallery to talk to Melinda.”

Larry smirked. “Yeah, I’m not.”

“I figured.”

“Tell the girls I said great job. I better go find Erica.” Walter looked annoyed, but I couldn’t tell if it was with me or his girlfriend.

As my brother left, I turned to Larry. “You want me to find you later?”

He shrugged. I got the impression something was bothering him, but I didn’t want to call him out on it.

“Tell you what. Why don’t you bring your guitar to my room? We’ll jam for a little.”

Larry glared at the stage. “I’m a little musicked out right now. I’m just . . . I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Text me when you get bored.”

We exchanged fist bumps, and he headed toward the exit. I went in the opposite direction.

As soon as I entered the gallery, Crystal started waving enthusiastically. She was standing just behind her parents, who were talking to Melinda’s parents. After greeting the adults and making a few minutes of small talk, I responded to Crystal’s frantic questions.

“I am not about to gossip about it.”

“About what?” Melinda’s brother sidled up beside us.

I translated for Crystal before answering. “It’s not something I’m going to bother discussing.”

“Sarah and Larry are in big trouble,” Crystal signed.

“I’m not telling him,” I replied.

Crystal glared at me with such ice that it made my skin crawl. She truly was her sister’s carbon copy. With a sigh, I relayed Crystal’s message to Melinda’s brother.

He winced. “Ouch. Hey, I have a girlfriend. Did I tell you?”

I shook my head, then spent the next five minutes interpreting as Melinda’s brother and Sarah’s sister told each other about their current crushes. I was relieved when I saw Melinda emerge from the stairwell behind the security desk.

I wanted to tell her that she had done an amazing job, but I would wait until we were alone. With a wave, I politely excused myself and headed back to my dorm.

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.